One exciting and educational part of my internship at ELCA World Hunger involves reading other blogs and seeing what is going on in the world. One blog I have been reading is GiveWell, a nonprofit organization that evaluates charities and their effectiveness. They evaluate not only financial aspects of charities, but also the effect these charities have on the people they are serving. This blog, along with others, has made me think about good intentions when it comes to giving, and whether or not having good intentions is all it takes to alleviate hunger and poverty.
You may have heard of 1 Million Shirts, an organization that has received a lot of attention lately in the aid-blogosphere lately. This organization aimed to send a million t-shirts to people in Africa who live in poverty. This seems like a project that is loaded with good intentions, as donating clothing to someone can provide someone with a basic need. However, the aid community responded adamantly that this was not an effective way to give. One point brought up by many was that most people in Africa do indeed have access to shirts. Another point was that by providing shirts, we hurt the textile industries in Africa, which in turn hurts people’s livelihoods. This is an example of how good intentions do not always lead to a good outcome.
When I studied abroad in India last fall, we talked a lot about aid and development and got to see it in action. Sometimes we saw great successes. Other times, we saw good intentions gone awry. We saw projects imposed on the impoverished that although they seemed like a good idea, either did not benefit the people or actually harmed them. Because I have seen development projects’ good intentions not leaving a positive impact, one of my favorite aspects of ELCA World Hunger is its model of accompaniment. ELCA World Hunger’s development work is done through existing relationships with people across the globe, and thus, World Hunger dollars go toward what the people want and need instead of being decided for them from thousands of miles away. The good intentions of ELCA World Hunger’s supporters do not go to waste; they go to good.
Good intentions are important. Without them, so many projects that do good in the world would cease to exist. However, simply having good intentions is not enough to ameliorate hunger and poverty. Good intentions must be coupled with an understanding of the issues, along with relationships with the people that good intentions are aimed for.